(CP) At least 31 people, including a pregnant woman and children, were killed in a stampede at an annual "Shop for Free" charity program organized by a Pentecostal church in southern Nigeria, according to a report.
The annual fair, organized by the Kings Assembly Pentecostal church in Rivers state and which was meant to offer hope, was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. local time on Saturday but many arrived as early as 5 a.m. to secure their place in line, The Associated Press said, quoting Grace Iringe-Koko, a police spokeswoman.
Some people broke open the locked gate, which led to the stampede, the spokeswoman said.
A witness, identified only as Daniel, was quoted as saying that he saw a pregnant woman and "so many children" among the dead, including five from one mother.
Out of anger, relatives of the victims attacked some church members after the stampede, another witness was quoted as saying.
Many churches and other groups organize such events in Nigeria, where more than 80 million people are poor, the newswire reported.
Such tragedies in Nigeria add to the suffering of Christians, who have been under constant attack by Islamist groups.
Earlier this month, the Islamic State terror group released a video showing the execution of about 20 Christian civilians in Borno State in revenge for the killing of their leader in Syria by the United States special forces in February.
The video, published on an IS-linked news outlet, showed a masked militant executing a Christian civilian while saying it was revenge for the killing of their leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, an Iraqi Islamic terrorist and the second "caliph" of the Islamic State.
In another recent attack, unidentified gunmen stormed a Catholic parish in northern Nigeria and abducted two priests, identified as Fr. Stephen Ojapa and Fr. Oliver Okpara from the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, and two unidentified boys from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Gidan Maikambo area of Katsina state's Kafur Local Government Area, Vatican News reported.
Also this month, radical Islamic militants affiliated with either the Islamic Fulani herdsmen or the Islamic State West Africa Province killed at least eight Christians, including children younger than 5, and wounded several others in an attack in Borno state.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. That is an increase from 3,530 the previous year. Additionally, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, up from 990 a year earlier.